Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis continued and 2016's 40th anniversary of WMATA as an opportunity to rebuild

Note the missing ceiling tiles at Gallery Place Station.

Yesterday's Post has an article ("Maryland, DC officials seek Metro management overhaul") about WMATA, the DC metropolitan area's subway and regional bus operator and how Maryland and DC more than Virginia believe that the agency needs a top to bottom overhaul of management and financial operation, with a focus on maintenance more than expansion.

While it's fair to say that I agree with the assessment generally about the need for management reboot, I think just as big a problem is that the members of the Authority--DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and the federal government--are under-acknowledging their role in both creating and maintaining the problems, and not taking full responsibility for financing the system.

I wrote about this last week, in the post "What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis," where I cited previous posts, and outlined the following needs:

a. a re/new/ed consensus for what the role of transit is in the metropolitan area, something I've been suggesting since 2009;
b. a new agreement on how to fund transit going forward;
c. to hire a truly world class transit executive.

But in a piece earlier in the month, "WMATA and two types of public relations programs," I cited two previous posts

-- St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region (2009)
-- WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment (2014)

about the broad need for reassessment and suggests again that next year's 40th anniversary of the opening of the first leg of the Metrorail system is a "focusing event" around which such a process can be organized.

DC's transportation director and Maryland's State Transportation Secretary haven't quite figured out the bigger picture.

This process needs to involve all of the jurisdictions, WMATA, the federal government, the Transportation Policy Board--the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, operated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, other transportation planning agencies, probably even the Baltimore Metropolitan Council--the MPO for Baltimore, but the regions "kiss" in Anne Arundel and Howard Counties and at the BWI Airport, and stakeholder groups.

These are the problems I outlined in the piece last week:

1. It's not just "management", if by that I presume people mean "within the agency," it's also "management" as it relates to the way that the "owners" of the agency, DC, Maryland and Virginia, plus the federal government "manage" the agency via their control of the board.

2. Financing too.

3. Use of the federal transit benefit by commuters inflates the farebox recovery rate beyond comparable systems.

4. Distance based-fares also inflate the farebox recovery rate compared to peer systems.

5. WMATA charges two separate fares for bus+rail or rail+bus when most other systems do not, further inflating farebox recovery rates compared to peer systems.

6. Combined, the comparatively high proportion of fare-related revenue has allowed WMATA to build a higher cost structure than would normally be sustainable compared to a peer transit agency.

7. And until now, the comparatively high proportion of fare-related revenue has allowed the jurisdictions to pay less into the system than normally would have been required compared to peer systems

8. Now that the Washington Metropolitan area is no longer in full growth mode, the agency can't maintain that kind of cost structure, because revenues are likely to plateau.

9. Especially because fares are very high, near the ceiling point--the highest fares are comparable to commuter rail fares, and double the typical fare in a flat-rate system.

10. Fare pricing for revenue to reduce financing demands from local and state governments causes conflicts between DC and the suburban jurisdictions because of incongruent policies concerning transit use--DC is more focused on "transit as a utility" and as a preferred substitute (along with biking, walking, and car share) for car use and ownership, which requires a lower fare structure comparable to NYC or San Francisco's MUNI system.

11. The jurisdictions believe that they don't need to pay more money into the system than they are currently paying.

Image from MassDOT.

Boston's transit crisis as an example from which Washington DC can learn.  The transit system in Boston is facing a similar crisis at the same time, brought on by the system's being unable to dig itself out of repeated snow events. 

The inability to function brought to a head the overhanging issues of the lack of adequate special equipment for snow removal, the large debt saddled onto the system from other infrastructure projects, and continued expansion at the expense of money for maintenance.

Maybe the Washington Post is preparing some series of stories on the topic here. In the meantime, coverage in Boston Globe provides clues to the situation here. For example:

-- At the MBTA, a spending paradox
-- Opinion: What T doesn’t need to fix
-- Three ideas on fixing the MBTA
-- MBTA system strained amid worker absences, report finds
-- Panel calls for T to rein in costs
-- Commuter rail fail’s silver lining
-- Study rips T cost management
-- Scot Lehigh: MBTA’s path forward
-- Starts & Stops: Commuters get their turn to pose questions to Keolis
-- Jeff Jacoby: Keolis is getting a bum rap
-- Evan Horowitz: Want to fix the T? Don’t forget to pay for it
-- The T’s long, winding, infuriating road to failure
-- Baker has ‘healthy exchange’ with outgoing T chief
-- Shirley Leung: It’s time to get Charlie back on the MBTA

Plus, a variety of public policy organizations, granted many of them are conservative and anti-tax focused, have released reports on the issues faced by MBTA, with recommendations for good or for ill, on how to move forward.

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